How to Clean Your Dishwasher

how to clean your dishwasher

Someone recently asked about cleaning the inside of the dishwasher.

Anonymous said…

This sounds great, I’m going to try it next time I get groceries…..Do you have a recipe to use for cleaning the dishwasher itself? Mine is VERY old and well, yucky. Anything I can use to sparkle it up a bit without hurting my back climbing inside the machine? lol

February 10, 2012  8:09 pm

After reading this my initial reaction was….Washing the Washer? Cleaning the Cleaner? Was this really necessary?

I gave it some thought and even did some research on it…but sort of shuffled it to the bottom of the “To Do” List because it wasn’t something I had had to deal with…yet….since our dishwasher is less than a year old.

Well, SOMEONE must have thought I had put it off long enough….because yesterday when I opened my dishwasher, this is what I found!

how to clean your dishwasher

A whole lot of dirty dish water standing in the bottom of it. ugh. Not good. That will teach me to procrastinate!
It was the middle of the day with no hubster around to consult with…so I decided it was the PERFECT time to re-visit my research into How To Clean Your Dishwasher….which really seems like an odd thing to even type when you think about it….CLEAN your DishWASHER?? Sounds mixed up to me! I mean the thing is running what seems like 24 hours a day…how can it get DIRTY???  Well, it turns out there are LOTS of ways it can get gunk and junk in it that need to be cleaned. Tiny bits of food, grease and soap scum can cling together and get deposited in corners of the dishwasher. After a time, they can not only make your dishwasher look and smell bad…but decrease its’ efficiency.

Well I knew it was only a matter of time before my dishwasher started to smell bad if I didn’t find a way to get rid of the standing water in the bottom. All the articles I read on this subject (and there were many!) all boiled down to basically 3 (sometimes 4) easy steps.

FiRST….pull the bottom rack out and examine the drain area and make sure there are no hard chunks that can plug the drain, cause damage to the pump or scratch dishes. You’d be surprised at what dishwasher repairmen find – bones, crab shells, chips of glass, and even small pieces of gravel!

So I got down on my knees and stuck my head in there and lo and behold I DID find a “hard chunk” plugging the drain…………

how to clean your dishwasher

Yep, that’s a hard chunk alright. :-/   I swear folks! That is the first time I have EVER had that happen!!  I have found the occasional utensil fallen down there….but never something like this.  I was actually quite horrified when I saw it! I thought my dishwasher MUST be a goner! But I figured I’d come this far…I wasn’t stopping now. So I pulled up my “big girl panties” and continued the task at hand.

Now that I had discovered the “chunk”…I felt all around the drain to make sure there were no MORE chunks hiding.  Couldn’t find a single piece of anything. So I proceeded to the next step.

how to clean your dishwasher

SeCOND…..Place a dishwasher-safe cup filled with plain white vinegar on the top rack of the dishwasher. Using the hottest water available, run the dishwasher through a cycle – except for the cup of vinegar, the dishwasher needs to be empty.
The vinegar will help to wash away the loose, greasy grime, sanitizes, and helps remove the musty odor.
If you don’t have any white vinegar, you may substitute a packet of unsweetened lemonade mix in the soap cup. Don’t experiment with other flavors as they may stain the inside of your dishwasher.

how to clean your dishwasher

ThIRD…..After using the vinegar to sanitize the inside of the dishwasher, sprinkle a cupful of baking soda around the bottom of the tub and run it through a short but complete cycle using the hottest water. The baking soda will help freshen the smell of the dishwasher as well as brighten up the look of the inside of your appliance by removing stains.

If you have problems with mold and mildew, add ½-1 cup bleach in the bottom of the dishwasher and run a full cycle. NOTE: DO NOT USE BLEACH IN YOUR DISHWASHER IF YOU HAVE A STAINLESS STEEL INTERIOR).

So…..did it work???  Sure did! My dishwasher is now squeaky clean and fresh smelling and NO standing water! Let’s hear it for no dishwasher repair bill!!!

how to clean your dishwasher


Now that the dishwasher is clean and running right………here are a few IMPORTANT tips to KEEP it that way….until the next cleaning. (A routine dishwasher cleaning is a good habit to get into. And you have to admit…now that you know how it’s done…it’s not that hard.)

*Run the garbage disposal before starting the dishwasher. The dishwasher drains into the same pipe as your sink, so that drain must be clear.

*Run a bit of hot water in your sink before running the dishwasher. You will get cleaner dishes if the water starts hot. You can collect the water you run and use it for watering plants or other purposes. Run the water until what comes out of the tap feels hot.

*Make sure your water starts hot enough. Set the thermostat on your water heater to 120F (50C). Water that is cooler than this won’t do a good job cleaning. Water that is hotter could scald.

*Run full loads to conserve water and energy, but don’t pack dishes too tightly. Dishwashers wash dishes by spraying water over them, so the water needs to be able to get to the dishes to clean them.

*If you are inclined to pre-wash your dishes before you put them in the dishwasher, consider this. Dishwasher detergent NEEDS a certain amount of grease and dirt in order to do its job. Otherwise, it actually foams up during the cycle which is not good for your dishwasher.

Now Go Forth And Clean!!! :-)


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  1. Ma and Pa says

    Oh do I need to do this soon! My dear dishwasher has seen it's better days, but I am sure this needs to be done!

    Thanks Jill, as always you are the best!

  2. AnandaBijoux says

    We have hard water and if the salt runs even a little low rust in the water stains the interior of the dishwasher something fierce! I'll try this method the next time and see how it works. Thanks!

  3. Eva says

    Wow, I never thought about doing that because there is soap in mine everyday but I am going to try that tonight!

  4. liz says

    Thank you for posting this. I was actually getting on your site to look for the homemade dishwasher soap, because mine was ugly & dirty and I didn't want to waste more detergent. Perfect timing!!!

    Thank you!

  5. DerFarm says

    Good Lord! I just get used to using vinegar and now you want this?

    Do I look like Fannie Farmer?????

  6. M. Kurdziel says

    You've got to be reading my mind!! I literally looked this up last week.. THESE EXACT STEPS! I'm making a cleaning binder, with directions for all of my all-natural cleaners, and steps to clean everything I can think of! I don 't want to forget all the AWESOME, easy steps I've learned to clean practically anything!

  7. Carole says

    Good job, Jillee. All of these years I have had a dishwasher, I never knew what I have learned from you today. Just goes to show that you can learn something valuable every single day, if you have someone like you around to teach you. I am so proud of the way you so willingly help others to make their lives easier.

  8. Diana says

    Thanks for the tips! Do you have any ideas for how to clean the inside of a clothes dryer? I've got blue all on the inside (probably from jeans)

    • Natashia says

      2 cups bleach wash on whites setting. Then follow up with 1 cup vinegar and 2 tablespoons vinegar and wash on whites setting and you should be good to go

      • Karen says

        Natashia… great for cleaning a washing machine.. especially if you have used it to dye something.. but Diana was asking about cleaning a clothes dryer… And I’m at a loss for that one. I’ve had blue on a dryer or two also.

      • Joan says

        Try bleach & a little soda on a cloth or sponge [wear a rubber glove or your hand will peel as it burns your skin] let it sit a few minutes; then with another cloth or sponge rinse with vinegar a few times. Make sure you rinse well or you may get bleach spots on clothes, maybe dry some white towels or something you don’t care about.

      • Jen says

        A damp dryer sheet cleaned chewing gum from the drum that got dried in a pair of jeans. I don’t know what possessed me to try it, but it worked!

      • ellen phillips says

        I have had the blue[from blue jeans….] the only thing I have found in soft scub with bleach…just on a dry cloth and elbow grease—and then clean/wet cloth–w/water–and wipe clean……should be off.

      • Niki says

        I had a sharpie mishap in the dryer recently, I used Axe body spray (smells horrible, use a fan to ventilate) and scrubbed it off with a sponge. It took a good deal of elbow grease, but the dryer is pretty again!

      • Rayleen says

        Rubbing alcohol will remove sharpie ink. Apply it to a paper towel and rub. It shouldn’t require too much effort.

      • Kristine says

        If you go over sharpie with a dry eraser pen, let it dry and then wipe off, the sharpie will be gone…

      • Shai says

        Tea tree oil will also take off sharpie on just about anything! Grandson took one to his papa’s yellow boat and papa never knew…. ;-D

    • Amy says

      I was once told to rub the dryer with a dryer sheet? But since I don’t use those I tried using Magic Eraser… and it works!

    • Angie DeKlein says

      I used a magic eraser to get off a whole pack of bubble gum from the inside of my new dryer. They work great! Took off discoloration from jeans too.

      • Shannon says

        Magic erasers are just melamine foam! Apparently, melamine foam is an open cell foam that, when mixed with water, acts like a super micro-fine sandpaper easily removing the toughest stains around your house! You can buy it online:) DIY you guys.

    • Ashley says

      I use soft scrub with a damp cloth on the inside of my dryer, takes out gum & blue stains :)

    • Lisa says

      Wow. Thanks for the tip. I’ve tried it before with fair results. The reason…I found the hidden NASTY part under the door. It is a rubber piece that goes inside about an inch. Why would they do that?? I dug out tons and am on my third vinegar run. Will end with the baking soda. Yay!!

    • Symantha says

      The blue is in my dryer too. The very light coat of white paint has abraded/eroded off to the primer. The primer is blue.

    • Gwyn says

      This might be too late for you… but I had the same problem & found the best thing to clean it was Mr. Clean Magic Eraser & a whole lotta elbow grease. From now on I soak all my new jeans in vinegar & water to eliminate most of that blue stains on the inside of my dryer (the vinegar locks in the blue dye).

      • says

        Also discovered Shout color catchers that you put in the wash. Perhaps this would help the blue from getting on the dryer?

      • Jennifer says

        Someone might have already mentioned this, but I dry my jeans inside out. They fade much slower and the buttons don’t hit the inside of the dryer. I’ve been doing this for years…no faded jeans or blue dryers here.

      • Erica says

        I’ve been washing our clothes inside out for a few years now. Saw that tip on some web site. I was able to use my kids’ elementary school uniforms two years in a row this way. We just turn the clothes inside out as we take them off, and toss in the hamper. Easy peasy. :-)

    • RaeAnne says

      I found that if you take an old white rag and soak in 1/2 bleach 1/2 water then wring it out. Put in dryer by itself on hottest setting for about a half hour. This worked on gum that got in there as well as the blue tint.

      • Rachel says

        I had dye on the inside of my dryer as well (used new blue denim fabric for the backing on a quilt I made … will never do THAT again) and this is what I did: Soak a rag in bleach, throw it in the dryer on the air fluff cycle. I would strongly caution against using heat as that will cause toxic fumes. The cold air fluff cycle works just fine and removed almost all the blue dye except in the crevices that the rag couldn’t really reach.

    • John says

      WD40 cleans any gunky stuff from the drum of a dryer… if the drum is blue from jeans… probably denim build up… spray the inner walls with WD40 and apply elbow grease (rub really hard) with a dry wash cloth (that you will be throwing away or using as a garage rag after) should take care of it.
      hope this helps

  9. Susan@FruitfulWords says

    Perfect timing for me to read this as my dishwasher is gucky. Thanks for these tips. I am sure in a few short hours my dishwasher will also be sparkling clean!

    • julia says

      I do the same routine for the dishwasher but I also do a Borax cycle! I works well! Vinegar can fix almost everything! lol Vinegar also is a natural insect killer! I wash my cat in a vinegar bath (1 part vinegar 2 part water) once a month! The smell also repels the fleas.

      • Barb says

        Half vinegar and half water also kills any bacteria or yeast on skin. I used this on my dog, and it cleared his skin right up! He did smell like a pickle though.

      • stormy says

        This is probably the most helpful comment I have ever read. If this actually works you have just saved my life and my nose!! My poor American bulldog is STINKY! No matter how often or how less I bathe her it never helps. Medicine won’t work. So I am going to try this. I really hope this works. And hey who doesn’t like pickles?? LoL!! Thanks.

      • Christie says

        I bathe our coonhound with oatmeal and baking soda. Rather than using any soap, I place cup or so of baking soda with a cup or two of oatmeal in the blender until it becomes powdery. Then I mix it with a little water and pour it over her a little bit at a time, scrubbing everywhere. Then rinse with water. It gets rid of all the hound smell! And doesn’t dry her skin out like regular dog shampoo.

      • Melissa says

        Julia, if you add a few drops of BLUE Dawn dish soap, it will kill any fleas on the kitty. We do this with kittens at the animal shelter I volunteer with (and I keep a bottle of blue dawn at home for when foster babies come with fleas).

      • Susie says

        I go through white vinegar by the gallons. I hate modern chemicals. I believe the make us ill. 7 years ago, I bought a foreclosure with the cheapest of the cheap white frigidare appliances. That’s ok, there are many other things I’d rather spend my money on, and I don’t have much of it, So, for 7 years, i have been washing dishes by hand – I hate doing dishes, and sometimes the build up a bit, or a lot if I’m not feeling well. Time to fix the darn dishwasher!!! I’ve fixed (or broken) just about everything else – I’m sick of things piling up! With cushion for my knees, I got down there. No screw, no forseable way to remove that darn filter… grrrrr…. oh well, try it anyway… results not favorable. A few days later, nasty smell coming from kitchen sink, and sink blocked… hmmmm? Try again… OMG! Now both kitchen sinks blocked, all kinds of nasty things coming up…(I’ve never seen before) scoop and empty into big pan, run and flush down the toilet – repeat… finally, the level went down to where I could wipe the nasty incredibly ganky smelly stuff out of the sink – but it didn’t stop there… oh no! there were a few hairs wrapped around the drain, so I pulled, and pulled some more, uggh, nasty stuff, all oily – believe it of not, I got about 5″ worth of thick nasty oily human hair and gunk out of there. shudder .

        Hmmn – even more stuff to wipe out of the bottom of the dish washer….. methinks the two might be related.

        Will repeat several times more over the next few days, and hope and pray that I can finally use the nasty, nasty, dishwasher that is becoming cleaner each time I do this. (The entire place was like this when I moved in) No wonder I’m tired now.

      • Cheryl Brown says

        If you will put a box of baking soda (half in each side of sink if you have a double one) and then pour vinegar down let it sit for 30 min to 1 hour and then pour a pot of boiling hot water down each side of the sink it generally flushes all of that gunk out – I try to do this once a month to keep my sinks fresh and clean and running free. Hint -I use the baking soda from my frig when I replace it with a new one and the hot vinegar from cleaning my coffee pot when I do that -about every other month – trying to save every way I can!

      • says

        This is a great idea! One thing to be careful of, my husband the plumber asks me not to pour boiling water down the sink drains. Not good for the plumbing! (Additional plumber hint: occasionally run the garbage disposal dry — no water running — for 10 seconds or so to help clear it out.) And don’t use “soft” toilet paper!

      • eliz says

        Susie – finding the amount of things you are describing, tells me you should have someone investigate your plumbing. these things should not be coming from your dishwasher and could make you sick. if someone worked on the plumbing and cut corners, you could have a very serious plumbing problem.

      • eliz says

        finding the amount of things you are describing, tells me you should have someone investigate your plumbing. these things should not be coming from your dishwasher and could make you sick. if someone worked on the plumbing and cut corners, you could have a very serious plumbing problem.

    • Karen says

      I use food grade citric acid….we have HARD water and it works great….no build up.
      1Tbs. in the cup or throw it in during the main wash or rinse cycle. No cloudy glasses anymore!